dramatic irony

[ druh-mat-ik ahy-ruh-nee, ahy-er-nee ]
/ drəˈmæt ɪk ˈaɪ rə ni, ˈaɪ ər ni /
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irony that is inherent in speeches or a situation of a drama and is understood by the audience but not grasped by the characters in the play.


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Origin of dramatic irony

First recorded in 1905–10
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What does dramatic irony mean?

Dramatic irony is a situation in which the audience or reader has a better understanding of events than the characters in a story do.

Dramatic irony is often the result of a story having shifting perspectives or a character being absent from a scene or chapter that reveals important information to the audience. The audience and the characters now expect different outcomes based on their different information.

One of the most famous examples of dramatic irony comes from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. In the play, Romeo drinks poison because he believes his love Juliet is dead and he would rather be dead than live without her. However, the audience knows that Juliet is actually alive because of an earlier scene Romeo wasn’t in. Shakespeare has created a tragic example of dramatic irony that leads to the death of Romeo.

Two other forms of irony are verbal irony and situational irony. In verbal irony, a person uses words that mean one thing but imply that the reality is different, such as a person saying, “Great weather today!” when it is raining. Situational irony is when the outcome is the opposite or completely different from what was expected.

Why is dramatic irony important?

The first records of the phrase dramatic irony come from around 1905. However, the actual literary device is much older and was used in plays like Oedipus Rex, which was first performed around 430 B.C. The phrase combines the word dramatic, which describes something that is related to drama (a situation involving emotional conflicts), and the notoriously confusing word irony, which has to do with expectations conflicting with reality. In dramatic irony, the audience and the characters have different expectations of what the outcome will be.

Dramatic irony is most often used in tragedy or drama, hence the name. Dramatic irony heightens tension and makes the audience experience more grief and sadness than they would otherwise. The audience knows that a character’s actions will lead to misfortune but must watch helplessly as the character performs them anyway.

However, dramatic irony can also be used in other types of stories, such as suspense or even comedy. For example, a character doesn’t know that the villain is waiting for them in the next room but the audience does. The audience waits and is filled with suspense as they watch the hero slowly figure out that they are walking into a trap. In a comedy, a character might go on a long rant that includes creative insults of their boss who the audience knows is standing right behind them.

Did you know … ?

Dramatic irony is commonly used in horror films so much that it’s almost predictable. The audience is almost always alerted to the presence of a monster or killer early on in the film and the rest of the movie has the audience watch the foolish characters inevitably meet their doom.

What are real-life examples of dramatic irony?

This video explains how dramatic irony is used in popular films and other stories.

Perhaps because it is so popular, people are usually less confused by dramatic irony than other forms of irony.

What other words are related to dramatic irony?

Quiz yourself!

True or False?

Dramatic irony is a situation in which the characters have more information about events than the audience does.

How to use dramatic irony in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for dramatic irony

dramatic irony

theatre the irony occurring when the implications of a situation, speech, etc, are understood by the audience but not by the characters in the play
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012